With the Supreme Court on March 18 declining to hear the petition against the construction of the National University of Study & Research in Law (NUSRL) on what tribal farmers in Nagri on the outskirts of Ranchi claim is their farmland, the villagers and activists said they will launch fresh protests. Farmers have been protesting the setting up of the campus in Nagri village since 2010. They had approached the Apex court in June last year also after the Jharkhand High Court ruled in favour of the construction of campuses for three colleges which are operating out of ad-hoc campuses at present.
“We were very hopeful that the Supreme Court will stay the construction. Last year the Supreme Court refused to hear our petition saying they did not want to rule on a 50-year-old land dispute. This time we were hopeful they will take a fresh look at it. We had slowed down our agitation because we had put our faith in the legal route,” said Vikas Toppo, 35, one of the leaders of the Nagri Bachao Samiti. Toppo, who holds a BA degree from Ranchi University, is accused along with other men from Nagri of attacking a police jeep with an axe last November and demolishing part of the boundary wall of the NUSRL before that in July.
The Jharkhand government has imposed Section 144 (Unlawful Assembly) in Nagri thrice since July last and posted paramilitary forces in the village.
On Tuesday, construction at NUSRL campus site went on at a brisk pace. The boundary wall has now been raised to 10 feet and topped with concertina wire on one side.
“One year’s harvest from this land lasts us two years; we will save our land at any cost,” said Devgi Toppo a farmer. Other villagers expressed disillusionment with political parties’ responses.
“Babulal (Marandi) came and said if his party wins the election, he will get this land back to us. Shibu Soren came here and said “hal chalao” (plough the fields) last year but did not follow up with any step in the Assembly. When we went to meet him at his residence, instead of discussing the issue he started saying things like village adivasis only want to eat meat and drink hadiya (local rice beer),” said an angry Ratni Toppo.
The Jharkhand government allotted 227 acres to build campuses for NUSRL, Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) in 2010. The government claimed it had already acquired the land to build an extension and a seed farm for Birsa Agricultural University in 1957-58.
The 400 Oraon adivasi families in Nagri contest this citing documents obtained through Right to Information applications that show that of the 153 families to whom the Government had offered compensation in 1957, only 25 had taken it.
The rest had refused. Also, they questioned if it was legal for the government to have acquired the land under Clause 17(4) of the Land Acquisition Act meant for situations of urgent public requirement and not putting it to any use for 55 years.
Following the farmers’ three-year resistance, IIM has since announced that it will build its campus on alternate non-agricultural land; IIIT is yet to start construction. NUSRL’s building’s construction is on over 63.76 acres in the village.
“On 15 April, we plan to have a rally in which leaders from resistance movements against displacement from all over Jharkhand – those against North Karanpura project in Hazaribagh, those displaced by Suvarnrekha dam in Jamshedpur who won fishing rights in the area recently and those opposed to Bhushan Steel plant in East Singhbhum - will join the rally,” said Stan Swamy, a social activist based in Ranchi.